By Karen Stokes
On May 15, as a brisk wind blew with threats of rain, specks of sunlight peeked through the chill.
The weather, unusual for a spring Atlanta morning, didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of thousands of family, friends and faculty witnessing the compilation of struggle, hard work, late nights, disappointments and triumphs which culminated into the 132nd Commencement of Morehouse College Class of 2016.
Included in this prestigious event were five Milwaukee area students and one from Madison who in 2012 were the first group to receive scholarships as part of the MKE Fellows program.
The 2016 MKE Fellows graduates are:
Aaron Blake, Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing- Madison Lafolette High School, Madison, WI
Jaylin Durham, English- Summa Cum Laude, Rufus King International High School
Onteria Harris, Psychology- Magna Cum Laude, Pulaski High School
Devon Kidd, English- Summa Cum Laude, Rufus King International High School
Nicholas Stokes, Business Administration with a concentration in Finance- Cum Laude, Rufus King International High School
Justin Wilks, Psychology- Magna Cum Laude, James Madison Academic Campus
The MKE Fellows program is a partnership between Milwaukee Public Schools, area businessmen and Morehouse College to provide scholarships to area high school students.
In 2012, several businessmen and former MPS Superintendent Dr. Gregory Thornton had an idea to find exceptional young black men from Milwaukee and create scholarships and other support from area businesses for these men to attend Morehouse College. Attorney John Daniels, Corey Nettles, Skip Poliner and Charles Harvey were instrumental in developing and implementing the program.
“Personally, I’m very excited to see this initiative and our young men deliver in the way we all desired,” said Charles Harvey, former President, Johnson Controls Foundation. “I can’t say I am surprised because I know when given a chance, our young men deliver extra-ordinary results when they commit and have resources available to them.
Founded in 1867, shortly after the Civil War, Morehouse is a private, all-male, historically black college in Atlanta, Georgia. The Morehouse mission is to produce academically superior, morally conscious leaders for the conditions of today, whether today is post-civil War or turn of the new millennium. Morehouse has a reputation worldwide for producing leaders who have influenced history around the world. Civil Rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr, Civil Rights movement leader and Georgia state Senator Julian Bond, the first African American mayor of Atlanta Maynard Jackson, award winning director Spike Lee and Oscar-nominated actor Samuel L. Jackson. They are just a few of the Morehouse men who have changed the world.
Graduation weekend began Friday night with a celebration dinner for the MKE Fellows and their parents at the Commerce Club, downtown Atlanta. On Saturday, friends and family congregated at the Martin Luther King, Jr. International Chapel on the Morehouse campus for the Baccalaureate church service which featured a sermon by Rev. Dr. Howard-John Wesley from Alexandria, Virginia and early Sunday morning was the main event, the Morehouse Commencement Exercises with speaker Strive Masiyiwa, Chairman and Founder, ECONET International Johannesburg, South Africa.
The MKE Fellows graduates shared thoughts on their experiences at Morehouse.
“As Morehouse men, we have been granted and accepted the opportunity to join a fraternity of leaders with the able minds to become the necessary leaders of tomorrow,” said Aaron Blake who will be working at a marketing firm in Atlanta.
“Simply put, my experience was a dream come true. At the age of 12, when I first toured Morehouse, I knew I wanted to attend,” said Onteria Harris who will be employed at Morehouse in the Housing Department. Harris educational journey will continuing as he applies for Ph.D programs in clinical psychology.
“To sum up my experience at Morehouse in one word, I would say that it has been extraordinary,” said Jaylin Durham, who will be attending Marquette University Law School this fall.
“Growing up in the situation I did, I could of never dreamed of a space where young black men take so much pride and joy in engaging in academic rhetoric and professional endeavors. I have amassed a network of Brothers that will forever be my Brothers. Morehouse quite literally has saved my life,” said Justin Wilks, who secured an internship at PSA Healthcare in Georgia and is also looking forward to continuing his education in psychology.
Some of the MKE Fellows will be returning to Milwaukee’s business community.
Devon Kidd,who will be working for Summerfest and will be launching his very own music and pop culture website said, “I feel that Morehouse was the catalyst in the shift to my understanding that the world was mine for the taking. Morehouse teaches her students that anything can be accomplished with enough dedication and hard work, and I actually believe it.”
Nicholas Stokes, who secured a credit analyst associate position at Associated Bank said, “These past four years went by so quickly, and now I have the opportunity to come back to Milwaukee and become a part of the corporate community. The MKE Fellows is a fraternity that will alway be a part of my life.”
Spelman College, Morehouse, Morehouse School of Medicine and Clark Atlanta University are members of the Atlanta University Center Consortium, the oldest and largest association of Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
MPS Superintendent Dr. Darienne Driver is a graduate of Spelman and has been a supporter of the MKE Fellows program.
“I am tremendously proud of the MPS students who have excelled at Morehouse in so many different fields,” Dr. Driver said. “It is a testament to the students, their families and all of the educators and support staff who have worked with them throughout their educational career. As a fellow Atlanta University Center alum, I am most proud and wish them nothing but the best for the future.”
Because of the initial success of the first class of the MKE Fellows, the question at hand is, will this program be continued to benefit more young black men in Milwaukee?
“We plan to continue this partnership between MPS, the business community, private donors and Morehouse College. We simply need more excellence like this to change our city, state and country,” said Harvey.